Authors: MAGGI ANDERSEN
At the Earl’s Convenience
A Regency Novella
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After refusing him once, heiress Miss Selina Wakefield accepts Giles Devereux, Earl of Halcrow’s, offer of marriage, against her better instincts. The handsome earl confesses that he needs to marry into money to save his crumbling estate, Halcrow Hall, and produce an heir.
Giles is the most interesting and fascinating man Selina knows. But he is also the most secretive. He has resigned his commission in the army while England is at war, and members of the ton cut him.
Because of the earl’s rakish reputation, Selina fears she may be leaving her calm, organized life for one of disorder and heartbreak. But she never expects what lies ahead.
At the Earl’s Convenience
Copyright © 2015 by Maggi Andersen
Published by Maggi Andersen
Edited by Devin Govaere
Cover Artist: Melody Simmons
Digital Formatting: Author E.M.S.
Originally released as a short story, titled Love and War.
Author’s Revised Edition.
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At the Earl’s Convenience
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
To His Coy Mistress
Bath, England, 1812
The Grand Ballroom of the New Assembly rooms was a total crush. Selina Wakefield and her best friend, Elsbeth Millichamp, had squeezed into a corner by a marble column. Away from the hubbub, they could more easily make themselves heard.
“Pon rep, Miss Somersby has
the available men at her feet,
of the time,” Elsbeth said with an annoyed swish of her white muslin skirts. Several men gathered around Miss Somersby hoping to claim a dance.
“She’s very young. And you can’t deny she’s pretty.” Selina’s gaze swept over the gathering searching for a familiar face.
“If you admire blue-eyed blondes,” Elsbeth said with a derisive snort. “Personally, I find them insipid.”
“Oh, Elsbeth, how can you say so?” Selina turned to focus on her friend, well aware of what had produced her gloomy mood.
“I much prefer brunettes.” Elsbeth put her hand to her light-brown curls twisted at the back into an Indian knot. “Your color is nicer, Selina.”
“It’s so dark a brown you could almost call it black. And with your green eyes and golden skin you are most unusual.”
“Too much time spent in the sun without my bonnet. I would prefer an English-rose complexion, far more fashionable.”
“It hardly seems to matter,” Elsbeth said with a twist of her lips. “At our age we are destined to be spinsters.”
“You could marry Freddie Goodwin,” she said. “He’s mad about you.”
Elsbeth’s brows drew together. “Freddie is too forthright. He took me for granted because we’ve known each other since we were children. I put him firmly in his place, and finally, he has listened and taken himself off.” A mournful expression replaced her frown. “It’s horrid to be three-and-twenty and not have a prospect in the world.”
“Where is Freddie?”
“London. The last I heard his father employed him in his export business. Not that I’m interested.”
Selina smiled. “Of course not.”
Elsbeth smoothed the skirts of her white crepe gown. “Dare you to talk, Selina. You refused an earl, no less. Lord Halcrow, did you not?” She raised her brows. “I wouldn’t have. He’s devilishly handsome.”
Selina’s gaze roamed the ballroom. “You are being contradictory, Elsbeth. Devereux is a blue-eyed blond.”
“I would happily make an exception for him, should he look my way.” Elsbeth rubbed her arms with an unconvincing shiver. “Those eyes! You’ve never told me why. Was it his financial situation? I’ve heard he’s rolled-up and his estates are entailed.”
“I’ve heard that too.”
“Not a fudge then? Your father left you a handsome fortune, so that can’t be the reason.”
“No.” Selina fussed with the tassel on her fan.
Elsbeth laughed. “I can see you’re not going to tell me. Is Devereux fighting in Spain?”
“I’ve heard he’s resigned his commission.”
“You are remarkably well informed.” Elspeth hid a smile with gloved fingers. “Not that you’re interested.”
The musicians took their places, and everyone moved to the dance floor for a country dance.
“Here comes Cousin Eustace to ask me to dance. He’s such a dear.” Elsbeth rose as a stocky man with a bristling moustache approached. “But I must converse with him for a full half an hour!”
Selina hid her smile as Eustace bowed and gave Elsbeth his arm to lead her onto the ballroom floor. Sitting alone made Selina feel even more like a wallflower. There were many visitors to Bath cramming the assembly rooms. Those that chose not to dance milled about chatting, playing cards, or drinking the waters.
Perhaps she was destined to be a maiden aunt. Although she loved her sister Anne’s children, caring for someone else’s offspring, no matter how dear, was a life unlived. She very much yearned to live a full and passionate life. Giles Devereux, Earl of Halcrow, had expressed the wish to marry her for her inheritance and made no secret of it. She did applaud his honesty, and perhaps she should be flattered that he’d chosen her. They were not a titled family. Her father had made his money in India. Such marriages were not uncommon amongst the
, but Selina still found it difficult to tell Elsbeth, fearing she would try to persuade her to accept him. Neither did she mention the two offers of marriage she’d rejected in the past month. The suitors had dropped to their knees and expressed undying devotion, but she hadn’t believed them. She enjoyed her independence, and the thought that, once a lady married, her property became her husband’s by law made her cautious. Elspeth was perceptive. She would guess why Selina had refused the earl, and she didn’t want her sympathy.
Since Selina’s father had left her a tidy fortune, offers had rained down like arrows. Anne was forever matchmaking, and no doubt, before the Season ended, another hapless beau would appear at dinner who bore no resemblance to Devereux. She gave an impatient huff. Why couldn’t he just sweep her off her feet with a lie? She slowly shook her head. It wouldn’t have worked. She would’ve seen through the ruse and liked him less.
She was not going to pine over an unrequited love, however. It was hardly a Greek tragedy, and she certainly didn’t intend to reject every possible husband who came along because of him. She looked down at her gloved hands, which gripped her fan. Why, when she’d heard Devereux was back in England, did she search for his golden head at every ball and soirée she attended?
She rubbed fruitlessly at a stain on her glove. Living with her sister was a mixed blessing. Selina loved the boisterous, noisy household, their three children and menagerie of spoiled pets. She was fond of her patient brother-in-law, Harry. But she didn’t belong there. Not only did she long for her own establishment, she was keen to discover the delights her sister appeared to enjoy behind the bedroom door. Selina grew hot at the thought. She hurriedly unfurled her ivory fan and gave her face a brisk cooling.
When the call for the next dance came, a portly gentleman crossed the room toward her. Mr. Everard invited her to dance with a roll of his eyes. She was taller than he, taller than many men here. She rose, and his damp, gloved fingers closed over her arm as they took their place amongst the other dancers.
The first Monday of the following month, at Anne’s insistence, Selina found herself in the ballroom of the Bath Upper Assembly rooms again. Although the Season was on the wane, the rooms were still packed. She danced every dance, but when she settled amongst the potted palms with a glass of detestable Madeira that her dancing partner had fetched her, she admitted to being bored to distraction. Anne and Harry were talking to their neighbor, Mrs. Mayberry, and for the moment, Selina sat alone.
Her usual companion for these occasions, Elsbeth, was away from Bath nursing a sick relative. None of Selina’s other friends attended tonight. She had never been particularly good at small talk with slight acquaintances. And not everyone wished to plunge into a brisk political debate or discuss the latest news of General Wellington’s exploits in Spain. Selina poured over the newspapers every day, reading the official dispatches, which might take weeks to reach them, and the debates in the House of Commons.
She preferred to walk in the park with the dogs or spend an afternoon reading a book that pushed the boundaries of her knowledge than attend these affairs, where she must curtsy and smile and dance one interminable dance after another. She was here under sufferance for her sister’s sake. Anne was determined Selina find a nice man to marry. But there was a definite snag in this arrangement, and the snag was Giles Devereux, Earl of Halcrow. She sighed. He made every other man appear dull.
Giles Devereux, Earl of Halcrow, searched the milling guests in the ballroom. The quadrille band struck up, and partners formed sets. The chandeliers shone down on the swaying gowns and waving feathers, adding luster to the fine jewels on display. As Giles skirted the floor, several acquaintances cut him, turning their backs. Word had spread that he’d resigned his commission while England was at war. He’d anticipated it and shrugged, determined not to let it bother him.
He found the person he sought. It was fortuitous that she wasn’t yet dancing. The lady sat alone, nibbling her full bottom lip as she fussed with her glove. He paused and allowed his gaze to sweep over her, noting the indifferent manner in which her beautiful hair was dressed and the gown successfully camouflaging her bosom and doing little to flatter her tall, slim figure. Selina Wakefield was outspoken and a little too serious, but not without a sense of humor. He found her a delightful puzzle. She was not a member of the aristocracy, although her wealth entitled her to move amongst them, and while her behavior could never be accused of being outlandish, she refused to adopt their affectations. He admired her and wished he didn’t like her so much. Far better that he didn’t love the woman he planned to wed, better for her, too, if she didn’t love him.
Selina pulled at a thread on her glove. If it fell apart, it would a good excuse to leave. Despite her ministrations, the cotton glove remained stubbornly intact. She was pondering finding her sister Anne, to plead a headache and retire when long legs encased in black silk appeared beside her.
“Good evening, Miss Wakefield.”
Selina’s breath caught in her throat. She knew that deep, amused voice and could barely raise her head as her pulse increased.
“Giles Devereux,” he said unnecessarily and bowed.
“I may not be in the first flush of youth, Lord Halcrow, but there’s nothing wrong with my eyes, or my memory.”
“You are remarkably well preserved.” His blue gaze roamed her hair. “Not a grey hair to be seen for the ripe old age of what, three-and-twenty?”
“Last Tuesday. Although I don’t see that it makes for good conversation.”
He grinned. “Dear me, there’s no sense in mourning the passing years.”